The Durango nonprofit Community Compassion Outreach successfully relocated 21 unhoused residents in La Plata and Montezuma counties to secure housing using COVID relief grant funds – but the nonprofit encountered tension with some motels in the process.
The Colorado COVID Relief Fund awarded the nonprofit homeless-advocacy group $10,000 to provide motel rooms and rental assistance to people experiencing homelessness. The residents had to be considered vulnerable to a severe case of COVID-19 to receive assistance from the grant. CCO has used the full funding package and is still receiving requests for assistance.
“We were able to see where COVID had affected so many people who had lost jobs ... or people with asthma who wanted protection from being homeless in scattered camps,” said Donna Mae Baukat, CCO executive director.
The nonprofit received 47 total requests for relocation or rental assistance from the grant’s start date in mid-May to mid-June. If Baukat could not serve clients, she referred them to other housing assistance agencies where they typically had their needs met, she said.
“It really was a great program. We are hoping we can find more funding, and that’s a search we’re continuing to do,” Baukat said.
Issues during the relocation process prompted two Durango motels, Super 8 Durango and Motel Durango, to refuse future CCO reservations to relocate clients.
Because they were vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19, the clients were supposed to remain in isolation and follow social-distancing guidelines. At Super 8, a few of the clients did not follow the guidelines or other motel policies, said Super 8 owner Nath Vadher. Super 8 ultimately stopped accepting CCO clients.
Motel Durango said the nonprofit had not paid some past bills and provided two incidents of late payments from its records. In one situation, Baukat said she fulfilled her payment commitment, then the responsibility to pay transferred to two other Durango community members. The parties are still resolving who should pay the $300 owed to the motel.
In another situation, Motel Durango Manager Mellissa Stanton said motel staff called Baukat several times about a $50 cleaning fee, which she refused to pay. Baukat said she volunteered to pay the fee but was never charged by the motel.
Motel Durango also told Baukat that all the people she placed since December are “100% bad,” Baukat said.
Stanton said that was not accurate, although some clients can “mess it up” for others, she said.
“It’s not a matter of ... any negative connotation. We just want to have people here who want to better their lives,” Stanton said. “We don’t want to house people that are staying here just to mooch off society, and fix nothing, and they ruin the property.”
She said she differentiates on an individual basis based on whether the person will “be a handful,” if she might get complaints or if the motel would have to deal with the police.
“We’re not trying to discriminate. We’re just going off of past behaviors, and there’s a routine that we’re noticing,” Stanton said. “That’s what we’re trying to break. It’s not a matter of discrimination.”
Motel Durango still accepts reservations relocating people experiencing homelessness from other agencies, just not CCO, she said.
“I understand (the coronavirus) plays a big part, and we’re all afraid and we’re all on edge,” Stanton said. “I would hope that our hotel would be welcoming to anyone trying to find a solid spot that they can stay safe, and they can find that here.”